What to Know About KAWS and “Companionship in the Age of Loneliness”

While KAWS’ sculptures initially exude a playful and toy-like aesthetic, a closer observation confronts us with fragility embedded in some of the vulnerable postures of the characters. “Companionship in the Age of Loneliness” (2019), currently available on Artscapy, features KAWS’ iconic Companion character affectionately holding a toy-like body in his arms. Rendered in the artist’s recognisable graphic style, the scene touches on the themes of friendship and togetherness, inviting us to reflect on the intricacy of building connections in the modern age. Here is what to know about KAWS and his characters’ dialogue with the issues of contemporary culture and society:

It Starts With a Tag 

Before rising to the status of an iconic pop artist and designer, KAWS was primarily immersed in the urban fabric of his native New Jersey. The original sign of his creative presence in the public space was a tag disseminated on buildings and objects. Consisting simply of the letters ‘KAWS’, the tag represents the origins of the artist’s creative evolution. Choosing letters based on the way they interacted with each other, rather than what they may mean, the artist established a signature that has gradually risen to the level of a brand name. 

Vulnerability and Companionship

In his Models collection featuring Kate Moss, KAWS famously subverted traditional advertisement photographs, inserting the Companion as an integral part of the image. In the 2001 series of five photographs, Companion coils itself around the model, as if offering protection against the public gaze falling on the exposed body. KAWS uses his character both in the context of playful pop gestures and as a shelter from the public eye; an element that shields the exposed body and wards off external projections of femininity.

‘A Skull Is a Skull in Every Culture’

Often infused with a cartoonish aesthetic, the skull in KAWS’ works speaks to the questions of mortality, transformations of the human body, and the transience of experience. By juxtaposing the traditionally sombre symbol with his signature characters, KAWS creates a world that challenges conventional divisions between life and death. The skull becomes a dynamic symbol for the exploration of duality, inviting viewers to contemplate both the inevitability of the passing time and the inherent joy found in embracing life’s fleeting moments.

Companion: A Spectrum of Emotions 

KAWS’ Companion character celebrates the diverse spectrum of human experience. The artist first introduced Companion in 1999 as a toy figure with Japanese brand Bounty Hunter. What began as a collectible toy has blossomed into a symbol that encapsulates the variety of emotions inherent in the human condition. 

Seen shedding tears, Companion captures the essence of sorrow and vulnerability, offering a poignant reflection on the more sombre aspects of human experience. Yet, in its dual nature, this iconic character also seamlessly transitions into depictions of friendship, embodying the brighter and more joyful dimensions of life.

Through KAWS' sculptures, Companion becomes a conduit for the exploration of the diverse range of human feelings. The evolution of Companion's form over time mirrors the artist's commitment to capturing the complexities of emotion, making it a dynamic and evolving emblem that resonates with viewers on a personal level.


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